Moonlight Dreams

By Souvid Datta | Drama
A pregnant teen returns to her village to challenge her sister's marriage.

Bright, energetic and feisty, Tara is a young girl living in a village in rural West Bengal in India. But with no money, an absent father and a mother too overwhelmed by poverty, Tara is also set to marry a much older man soon, despite her age.

On the eve of her wedding, Tara’s 17-year-old sister Krishna arrives in the village, pregnant herself from her own marriage as a child bride. As the pair reunite and reconnect, reconciling old differences and memories, Krishna challenges Tara’s marriage, as she seeks to free her sister from the fate she has suffered herself.

Filmed on location in the Sunderbans Delta in India, this gorgeous, compelling drama by writer-director Souvid Datta captures a corner of the world not often seen by Western audiences, as well as brings considerable shape and feeling to the issue of child brides, who are deprived of their full potential and life when married off before they’re physically or emotionally ready to become wives and mothers.

Though child marriage is the dramatic axis of the conflict that powers the film’s narrative forward, this short film itself doesn’t deprive its power just from its moral clarity. With moody, saturated hues, hazy and expressionistic lighting and a dynamic sense of movement, it offers impeccable cinematic craftsmanship as well, rendering this milieu with a sensuous attention to detail, sound and texture. Its tapestry of beautiful images and sounds — combined with a poetic, almost impressionistic approach to editing and pacing — immerses viewers intimately in the story and place, helping viewers to understand the context and emotional stakes of what’s happening.

Out of this pleasing blur of sound and image, the story of these sisters emerges like a kaleidoscope settling into a clear pattern. The narrative structure is fairly ambitious, weaving between past and present, but it knits together a portrait of a strong bond between sisters, capturing the spirit of two strong, intelligent girls. Portrayed by actors Priyanka Roy and Ratna Chakraborty as Tara and Krishna, respectively, these two sisters are so vividly alive onscreen that we understand why being married off so young is such a tragedy in their lives — and root for them even more as they push against the norms that may condemn them to such limited, circumscribed lives.

Beyond the emotional trauma and tragedy, being married off too young often perpetuates intergenerational cycles of poverty, since young girls often are deprived of education and social support and cannot develop the networks and skills to help them find better opportunities. Yet in South Asia, for example, nearly 30 percent of young women were married off before the age of 18, according to UNICEF.

“Moonlight Dreams” brings these issues and statistics to life, in a way that grounds us emotionally in what’s at stake for young girls like Tara. But more than that, it is a vivid portrait of sisterly love and loyalty, and the strength that exists between women, as they fight to be free, make choices and develop to their fullest potential — in their own time, and in the way that best suits them.

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